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Snell Memorial Foundation
3628 Madison Avenue, Suite 11
North Highlands, CA 95660

(916) 331-5073 
Fax (916) 331-0359 

Sunday, May 23, 1999

From: Steven Shmerler <sas@sasnet.com>
To: SNELL <ed@smf.org>
Subject: Trying to buy the safest helmet

Dear Mr. Becker,

I would like to know which helmets will give me the most safety and impact protection at highway speeds. Do you have a list or chart by impact rating so I can buy the safest one?

Many thanks,

From: "Ed Becker" <ed@smf.org>
To: "Steven Shmerler" <sas@sasnet.com>
Subject: Re: Trying to buy the safest helmet
Tue, 25 May 1999 08:32:20 -0700

Dear Mr. Shmerler,

Thanks for your query regarding impact ratings for helmets.

Our program is a simple go/no-go rating system. Helmets either pass or they don't. We test lots of helmets and talk about the ones we like but, as far as our tests can determine, one Snell M-95 helmet is as good as another.

Of course, we don't have tests for quality of fit, comfort, ventilation, visibility or hearing. All of these bear on how safe a helmet can keep its wearer but they are matters in which the individual motorcyclist can tell us better than we could ever tell him.

I would urge you to select from among the range of helmets we've identified in our M-95 program and to look for the helmet that meets your own individual needs in all those matters where you know better than we ever could.
Best of luck.

Ed Becker

From: Steven Shmerler <shmerls@earthlink.net>
To: Ed Becker <ed@smf.org>
Subject: Re: Trying to buy the safest helmet
Date: Tuesday, May 25, 1999 9:19 AM


Yes, I assume that the best rating will give the most protection. I merely want to understand, even approximately, what does "best protection" mean to me in a crash.

Meaning, with a M-95 on my head I can possibly sustain a head on into a wall at 5 MPH, 10 MPH? 20 MPH? 30 MPH? 50 MPH?

I understand that there are lots of variables, but given a person of 150 lbs., what is reasonable to assume the absorption capabilities are of such a helmet in such a crash scenario?


Tue, 25 May 1999


Translating helmet standards into head-on/barrier type impacts is depressing.

Our standards call for impacts with a velocity of about 17.3 mph followed by a second impact at the same point on the helmet at about 14.8 mph. A helmet that can take one of our headforms through these two impacts unscathed could probably handle a single impact somewhat greater than 17.3 mph but certainly no more than 23 MPH.

DOT tests apply two impacts as well, both at around 13.4 MPH implying a single impact capacity greater than 13.4 mph but certainly no more than 19 mph. These numbers all seem pretty dismal compared with even normal traffic speeds but, fortunately, few motorcyclists ever go head-on into a wall.

Most head strikes are glancing blows. The most common accident is the biker is thrown from the bike, falls to the road surface and scrubs off his cruising speed sliding along the roadway. The impact velocity is not his cruising speed but just the downward component picked up in his fall. A fall of two meters (we're metric here) will result in a DOT level impact. If the biker is thrown higher, say up to three meters, it will be a Snell level impact. Of course, with no helmet, a fall of one or two feet can produce death or permanent disability.

What's important is that almost any level of head protection will produce benefits. There are accidents in which even a thick toupee might save someone's life. However, a motorcyclist could not lift, let alone wear, all the helmet he might reasonably be expected to need to survive any reasonably foreseeable accident. For that reason, our standards look to identify all the helmet a rider could reasonably be expected to wear.

This is about the best I can do for an accident description and it requires that you accept our headform and shock measures as a suitable model of human head tolerance. Since motorcycle helmets have been in widespread use since the sixties, it's possible to get a statistical confirmation of their utility. A couple of researchers looked at 14 years worth of data from the Fatal Accident Recovery System and examined accidents involving a motorcyclist and passenger in which one or both were killed. There were a certain amount of these in which one was helmeted and the other was not. When they made allowances for all the other variables, they found that helmet use yields a fifty percent reduction in fatalities for the most serious accidents. They also found that this reduction had been improving steadily over the time of their study. Many interpretations are possible but it seems inescapable that helmets save lives and, reaching only a little further, better helmets save more lives.

Thanks for your interest.

Ed Becker

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